Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Multiple Attackers


There has been a debate going back and forth about the effectiveness of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) in regards to multiple attackers.  I covered techniques for dealing with multiple attacker situations in one of my previous articles.  In that article I discussed the disservice that martial arts instructors have done to their students by instilling a false sense of confidence when it comes to dealing with multiple attackers. I also covered various principles one should employ when dealing with multiple attackers.

Imagine my surprise when I come across Rener Gracie from the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy discussing multiple attackers. I was impressed in his analysis of multiple attackers and it led me to examine the effectiveness of BJJ and multiple attackers.

First let’s take a look at the Gracie’s breakdown:

Here’s my take on the Gracie methodology for dealing with multiple attackers:

  1. Diffuse the combative energy – Basically Rener is saying that there is a tipping point that will cause the fight to begin in the first place.  It could be the way you stand, the things you say, or your general attitude.   A lot of this has to do with ego and an inability for people to let things go that aren’t defensive situations in the first place.  For example, someone disrespecting you is not an instance when you must defend yourself since there was no physical attack. These situations are amplified with multiple people because of herd mentality.  Groups are easier to provoke than just one opponent.   At that moment, it is wise to check your ego and relax. Let your body language defuse the situation by putting your hands out with no intention of fighting. Ultimately it is best to just walk away.

Here Rener is absolutely correct. As we explained in a previous article, walking away is one of main reasons you will lose a street fight.When your ego comes into play, you cannot be disrespected if you are not there. Why stand and be a target of a person’s ignorance when you could just walk away?  When talking about the simplest and most effective fighting method, this is it.

  1. Evade their attack with effective distance management – Assuming diffusing the combative energy doesn’t work, Rener explains how distance management can be used to deal with multiple attackers. The principle is simple: if you’re beyond your opponent’s reach you can’t be damaged, or if you’re in very close he can’t damage you either. He can only damage you if you’re in the opponent’s striking range. However, with multiple opponents going to the ground is no longer a safe option. That is because you can’t manage the distance between multiple persons at close range. Grappling and going to the ground is not an option. Basically this means run and get out the situation to create as much distance as possible. You may also need to hit the opponent standing between you and freedom only when absolutely necessary to create an avenue of escape.

Rener is correct when it comes to distance but he is missing a few elements. In Japanese martial arts distance is referred to a maai (間合い) and is a complex concept. The concept not only incorporates the distance between opponents, but also the time it will take to cross the distance, the angle, and the rhythm of attack.  After factoring in the above elements, it is specifically the exact position from which one opponent can strike the other. It is ideal for you to maintain appropriate maai while preventing your opponent from doing the same, meaning that you strike before the opponent can. Distance is the easiest element to accomplish, simply by moving further or closer to the opponent. The other elements such as timing, angle, and rhythm take much more time to develop. For example, my distance may be correct but if my opponent attacks me and my timing is off then I’m still in trouble. Similarly if my distance is correct but my angle is off then my opponent can still get to me.

  1. Attack first and attack fast – What if you can’t defuse or evade the attack?  Perhaps you’re in a confined space with no avenue of escape. If you can tell the opponents are going to attack after attempting to defuse the situation you should attack first and fast by putting one of the opponents on the defensive. The moment of attack puts one person in shock giving you a chance to deal with the other opponents and evade.  When evading one should move to such a position that one opponent is between you and the others in order to create a line. This means you must be very elusive and continue moving to keep everyone in a single line. If someone grabs you and you get taken to the ground use jiu-jitsu to break fast and get back to your feet immediately.

Again Rener has some good points here. By attacking first you have given yourself a small window of escape by putting your opponent on the defensive, allowing you to deal with the others. I talked about “tying up a line of fishes” when evading multiple attackers in one of my previous articles. This is simply the best method for keeping multiple opponents at bay by allowing you to control the dynamics of the fight. This technique is a natural result of using maai appropriately. I disagree with Rener that if someone grabs you that you must go to the ground. Knowing some standing grappling escapes is important because going to the ground should never be an option unless you’re forced there. In total agreement, Rener talks about avoiding the ground, and if you end up there use what you know to break away from you opponent. This is when BJJ is useful.

I did some more research and I found several BJJ schools teaching the techniques outlined above. On the other hand I found some silly videos of BJJ instructors grappling with multiple attackers or claiming that stand-up fighting with multiple attackers provides no advantage to grappling. I think these instructors are stuck in their ego and should let go of the idea that fighting on the ground will work in these types of scenarios.  The reasons for this are simple, you’ve lost all mobility on the ground and you can’t account for the dynamics of multiple attackers when you’re focused/engaged on one person. This is basically what it would look like:

So does Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu work in multiple attacker situations?  Yes, if your BJJ incorporates the principles outlined above. No, if you’re focused only on ground fighting techniques. I believe that BJJ schools should spend a fair amount of time teaching these principles, in particular maai, to their students.  If not, they are doing a huge disservice by not giving them the tools to defend themselves.  Unfortunately, this seems to be the case at many schools. If you’re at a school, not just BJJ,  that doesn’t teach these techniques I would encourage you to find someone who can teach you as a supplement to your BJJ training. This also reinforces the need to learn multiple techniques from various schools of thought in order to become a complete fighter.

Daniel Brackins
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